What Does Frostbite Look Like? What Should You Do?

 Boy trying to warm his hands“Frostbite” is a term that is thrown around loosely, but the actual definition is frozen body tissue. A lot of people believe they have frostbite, when in fact they have what is called “frostnip.” While both conditions require attention, frostbite is more severe than its precursor, frostnip. This article will address both of these cold-weather injuries and their differences.

Did you know? Many people are treated yearly for frostnip and frostbite!

There are many degrees of frostbite – from just the skin, to the muscles, and even bones. Children are at higher risk for developing frostbite because they lose heat faster than adults and are less likely to know when it is time to come inside and warm up!

The area’s most prone to both frostnip and frostbite are the head, face, ears, hands, and feet. To avoid getting either of these conditions, it is important to take proper precautions whenever you or your family are spending time in an unpredictable, wintry environment.

Frostbite and Frostnip Prevention

  • Listen to the weather. Any extreme cold temperatures or high winds can cause a problem – even if you’re not outside that long.
  • Make sure you dress in layers. Items that are waterproof, moisture-absorbing, and windproof work best.
  • Make sure you go inside and warm up in regular intervals; if you have to stay outside, warm your hands in your armpits and try to cover your face with gloved hands.
  • Change out of wet clothes as soon as possible.
  • Keep a winter survival kit in your car and travel-sized supplies, like hand warmers, in your purse or diaper bag.
  • Let others know when you will be outside.
  • Learn CPR, in case of an emergency.
  • Be extra cautious if you have peripheral vascular disease, like Raynaud’s phenomenon or diabetes, are a smoker, or are on beta-blockers.

If at all possible, wear mittens instead of gloves, as they contain warmth better. If you are ever caught in a snowstorm or have to be outdoors for a prolonged period, seek a shelter and increase your physical activity to maintain body heat.

The Stages from Frostnip into Frostbite

  1. Frostnip
    This is a mild form of frostbite and only affects the epidermis. It is characterized by redness and a cold, numb, or tingly feeling. It can be treated at home.
  2. Superficial Frostbite
    Patients will experience an aching or throbbing and a warm feeling. Both the epidermis and dermis are affected and fluid-filled blisters may appear 24 to 36 hours after thawing out. The blood vessels are not yet affected, but there may be a whitish or grayish-yellow tint to the affected extremities.
  3. Deep Frostbite
    During this stage, the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue and blood vessels are affected. Damage may be done to the tendons, muscles, nerves, and even bones. Patients will have numbness; joints and muscles may not work; large blisters will appear within 24 to 48 hours; and the tissue may turn hard and black (gangrene) as it dies. Amputation may be necessary at this point.  


What do you think?

What Does Frostbite Look Like? What Should You Do?

Tell us what you think!


  1. khairat says:

    I am having back and throbbing leg pain what can I do

  2. LIZ says:

    good, i didnt know about this

  3. wow thank for the information

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  5. Stephanie says:

    Did not know some of the information

  6. Ian says:

    Good and informative article.

  7. Being from the south, the ways of winter preparedness elude me. I will definitely hold on the the mittens tip!

  8. gfeld says:

    Very informative so thank you so much!!


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